DIOCESE OF BARBADOS
Church Mission Committee

The Diocesan Lenten Study Guide Leadership Through Crisis is based on the Church Mission Committee’s theme for 2010. Through its theme and events for this year, the Church Mission Committee seeks to empower persons to cope and manage crisis situations and to renew people’s hope in God’s Divine Providence.

The 2010 Lenten Reflection examines the leadership given by some Biblical characters at crisis moments and invites us to see how we can use their styles of leadership in our contemporary situations.

The following are the Reflections, they need not be followed in this order:

Shared Ministry, Moses and Jethro
Sound Leadership, Rehoboam and Jeroboam
The Creative use of resources, Nehemiah
Empowering people, the work of Jesus Christ
Understanding Suffering

It is the prayer of the Church Mission Committee that this Lenten reflection would help us, as priests and laity, to offer to our nation an authentic leadership that will guide it through moments of crisis. The positive leadership we give to the nation can help it to see the present time as an opportunity and not a crisis.

Wayne E. Isaacs
Canon Missioner.

SHARED MINISTRY

Deuteronomy 18:

Life could be compared to that of a conversation. There is the sender and the receiver. Until the process is completed we cannot say that we have had a conversation. We judge the success based on the action taken. Sometimes the action taken is not what we had expected. One thing we must remember is that the receiver has the right to interpret the message sent and respond accordingly. In life we encounter many situations. How we enter into conversation with them will determine whether they become a crisis or opportunity for change.

In this reflection let us look at the conversation between Jethro and Moses found in Exodus chapter 18 and draw out some of the implications for leadership in ministry, especially when things look very difficult. Alternative versions of this story can be found Numbers 11:10-30 and Deuteronomy 1:9-18.

We expect the year 2010 to be a difficult year for individuals and institutions. To make the most of what life has to offer we have to draw on all the resources that are at our disposal. Moses like many of us felt that the situation he was experiencing was his own and therefore he had to deal with it by himself.

The first quality of leadership here is the recognition that leadership springs out of the relationship shared. Leadership is not an automatic thing but it must be earned. There are many definitions used for leadership but the one I find most helpful is to speak of leadership as “going with a person where they would not go by themselves”. Leadership involves trust, which grows out of the quality of the relationship shared. One cannot be a leader unless at least one person is prepared to follow. The same principle holds true for ministry. I cannot minister to any one unless they allow me to. Lyn Rhodes, quoting a female in ministry, shares the thoughts of this person who said she became their pastor not when she was appointed but when the community accepted her as their pastor. Moses was able to share with Jethro, his father-in-law, the hardships the people faced on the way (18:8). In our times of difficulty/crisis how much do we share with others? Most persons are reluctant to share because they usually assume that no one is willing to listen. Here we see how Jethro listened to Moses. This evidence of listening is later demonstrated when we see how much interest Jethro showed in Moses’ work.

What are we expecting when we enter into conversation with the other thing, person or situation? Moses wanted to share his experiences as a servant of the people. It does not seem as though he wanted anything more. What he got was an affirmation of his service as Jethro affirmed the God of Moses - “when Jethro heard all this he was happy and said, praise the Lord….” In our times of crisis our sharing may not always take away the burden but it may very well affirm our process. It is this sharing that makes the burden easier to bear. Jethro brought an offering to be burnt and other sacrifices to be offered to the Lord. In this sharing he affirmed and supported Moses. In our sharing we too affirm the other and by so doing we can help turn disaster into a new opportunity for change.

Leadership in ministry requires perception. Usually in a crisis we cannot see beyond the immediate situation. We need some thoughts and perspectives from outside. Jethro provides such for Moses. The story says that the next day Jethro went where Moses was and observed what he was doing. Leadership in ministry begins with the observation followed by the question – what are you doing? There is that Moses type in all of us. We feel that we must ‘do it‘ ourselves. This is not because we do not trust the other person but more so out of a sense of duty. It is my responsibility. How much of what we are doing now could be shared with others?

Leadership in ministry involves listening. Good listening brings change. Leadership through crisis requires a change in perspective which may lead to a new way of prioritizing. Moses, on the advice of Jethro, divided up the tasks and set new priorities. Leadership through crisis requires that we accept that wisdom resides outside of us as well. Moses took the advice and chose capable persons to share with as judges. In a situation we need to sort out the issues so that we may arrive at the principal issue. We cannot fight effectively if we cannot identify the enemy or the cause. We must know the nature of the battle we are fighting and choose the equipment most suited and adopt the most advantageous position. We do not want be like a boxer who is beating the air.

As stewards, we are responsible to God for the way we tend the vineyard God has left us. We are invited at our various levels to participate in focus of leadership. Our leadership tasks are set out in a definition used for pastoral care:

… helping acts done by representative Christian persons, directed toward the healing, sustaining, guiding and reconciling of troubled persons…

As individuals or institutions we must constantly reflect on our experiences. Part of this reflection involves entering into conversation with self and others. It involves our willingness to go to the other with a desire to receive help or offer help. It involves us in a desire to want to ride along with the other, sharing in their company. The story of Philip in the Book of Acts (Acts 8:1-13) is an example of this desire to engage with the other. Philip asked the question and the eunuch issued the invitation. They both got into the chariot and rode along together. Their conversation led to new insights – “here is water what prevents me from being baptized?”. If we are willing to engage in the struggles of each other then what seems to be a large burden can be considerably lightened.

Whether we are able to cope or not in our times of difficulty will depend, to a large extent, on the attitude we adopt. Our perception of what is happening will determine the steps we take towards managing the situation we may be experiencing.

Discussing:

1. Ministry is not done for people but done with them. Discuss
2. How can your parish equip the saints for ministry?
3. What leadership role can you play as “co-shepherd” in your parish/diocese?
4. How open is your church/parish to doing things differently? What are some of the factors that constrain your efforts? 

THE LEADERSHIP STYLES OF REHOBOAM AND JEROBOAM IN RESPONSE TO CRISIS

If these two kings are discussed in relation to the theme ‘Leadership through crisis’ then they will be seen as contrasting sides of the theme. Jeroboam can indeed be seen as offering sound leadership through a crisis while Rehoboam is doing the very opposite.

We must enter this discussion conscious of the fact that the two kings have been shaped into characters that fit in with the designs of the writers, the Deuteronomic Historians.

The kings in I & II Kings are not just political leaders. They are spiritual leaders as well. Their duty is to protect their people from the  political and military forces that will take away their land and the religions that will destroy their faith, that is, their peculiar understanding of God.

Both kings enter the scene against the background of Solomon. Solomon had achieved what his father David had not achieved. He built a magnificent temple for Yahweh. He created a number of regional relationships with other states. Indeed he moved his country to the level of development that was evident in the neighbouring states (I Kings 5-11).
For the Deuteronomic Historians Solomon still fell short of the ideal King. We are also told that in spite of the great achievement of building the temple, he  drifted away from the faith of Yahweh  and exposed his people to other faiths (I Kings 11:1-8).

Jeroboam is presented as the one whom Yahweh used to punish Solomon for this. Rehoboam on the other hand suffers the consequences of the sins of his father and sees his inheritance disintegrate. The consequences of his father’s sins is the division of his kingdom with Jeroboam taking the larger part.

We meet Jeroboam in I Kings 11:26-40  as the one designated by Yahweh to take the greater part of Israel from  Solomon’s successor Rehoboam . This is presented not simply as  a case of blind fate however, for  Rehoboam plays a significant role in the process.

Rehoboam inherits a kingdom in crisis. His father had left an elaborate system of government that had to be funded. There was discontent over the burden of taxes. But the kingdom had to be funded.

In response to the crisis he makes a positive move.  He engages in a process of consultation to find a way forward. He consults with two groups, the elders and a younger group, his contemporaries. They provided contrasting advice:

The elders give him this advice:

They answered him, "If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.”

And  his contemporaries:

Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, 'Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us'; thus you should say to them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's loins. Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your  yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.
 The contrast is stark. Rehobam has to make a choice. He has to decide what is the best way forward not only for himself but also for those whom he leads.

Leadership calls for making difficult choices. In the case of Rehoboam it was a choice of following his father’s policy that was oppressive for some of his people, or charting a new way ahead that was less oppressive.
The advice of the elders is sound advice. To win back the affection of those who had become disenchanted and angry by his father’s policies he had to first win their confidence and their hearts. He had to be a servant and speak ‘good words’ to them.

Here is one of the gems of good leadership. The one who is called to lead must do so with a deep sense of service.  There can hardly be a better way to lead in a crisis. Although the leader must offer guidance, and make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, all this must be grounded in a deep sense of service. Leadership is to be  offered for service rather than gain.

But leadership is about making difficult choices. Those who are being led will accept this. They will surely not accept the choice offered by the young men. This way will only establish and affirm who is in control, but the one in control may sooner or later have no one to control by following this oppressive style of leadership.

Leadership in crisis is surely not about the assertion of self as Rehoboam learnt the hard way. The style of leadership for which he opted was one that alienates not one that embraces. It is a style that could not heal the wounds that were inflicted on the people by his father. What a difference the acceptance of the advice of the elders would have made.

Like Rehoboam, Jeroboam also starts as king  with a crisis on his hands. Ironically his in many ways resulted from Rehoboam’s inability to solve the one he faced. Jeroboam ends up with a kingdom and has to establish a political structure that will hold it together. He displays astute leadership in the crisis. The steps he takes towards a solution are clearly identified.  The primary concerns are political and religious in nature. On the political side he establishes a seat of government and what could be a military outpost (1 Kings 12:25)

The religious side is a bit more complex but it had to be addressed if he was to stay on top of the crisis in hand.  1 Kings12:26 spells out the religious dimension of the crisis:

Then Jeroboam said to himself:

Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David.  If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah

This was a sensible decision given the ‘pull’ of the temple at Jerusalem. He takes the initiative and he offers his people an alternative. He demystifies the Jerusalem cult and temple by setting up his national shrines that are proclaimed as being just as good and legitimate.

Although Jeroboam’s motives for setting up his new places of worship can be interpreted as one of self preservation, it is a clever political move that ensures he maintains his kingdom and his people’s independence is protected. This is astute leadership in crisis.

Jeroboam attempts to sever the link between his people and their old master.  Old religious and emotional ties are difficult to sever. But for the new leader to offer strong leadership, they must at least be carefully managed. 
We can compare the leadership in the Caribbean during the years of moving into independence. As with Jeroboam, the leaders then had to manage carefully the break with the colonial power since many of their citizens still showed affection for, and allegiance to the old master.

Double allegiance is still the strongest threat to good leadership. For Jeroboam double allegiance will only destroy his new kingdom and he himself. To lead in crisis the leader must be pretty clear on allegiances. This type of leadership must ensure that those who are being led are on board with the leader and giving their  support for the new way forward.

The leader must therefore be aware of the areas from where this support will come as well as the areas from where opposition to his leadership will emerge.  For Jeroboam, support will surely not come from Rehoboam or his supporters in Jerusalem. So he has to create a new basis of support.  He has to establish a new power base. His two cities and two shrines are responses to this critical need.

But leadership in crisis that has to deal with the challenge of double allegiance must also be aware of the need not to make the break with the past so traumatic that the new offer will be rejected outright by those who remained emotionally tied to the past.  Jeroboam is aware of this. There is a need for a break, a need for the new, but the new can also contain elements of the old:

There is the new:

So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, "You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, But it is cemented to the old: who brought you up out of the land of Egypt

The memory of Egypt that had become a central element of the faith was preserved. Yahweh as a god who set captives free is maintained. A critical element in understanding the Yahweh-Israel relationship is saved.

Yes there is need for the new, but there must also be respect for the old with its precious memories and history. There can hardly be a better approach to leadership in or out of crisis. It helps to maintain the link with the past even while we are surging ahead with new creative things.

We can also note that Jeroboam behaves like a good leader in seeking advice even as Rehoboam had done. But his is sensible advice that he accepts. It leads to the strengthening of his kingdom and not to its disintegration.

The move to cultic independence is not only his, it is also that of those whom he consults. Leadership here is shared leadership. It is the type that can work wonders in a crisis.

Rehoboam and Jeroboam stand at opposite poles in terms of their leadership styles in crisis.  If Rehoboam shows us what should not be done, Jeroboam shows us what can be done and should be done.

Rehoboam refuses to act on sound advice and loses most of his kingdom while Jeroboam does the very opposite and consolidates his position. Rehoboam follows a path that alienates his people, Jeroboam follows one that projects him as a leader who understands his people and has their welfare at heart.

These two styles of leadership still carry some lessons for us today. They highlight the strengths and the pitfalls of leadership in crisis. In crisis, leadership needs to be strong and in possession of a vision. But the vision must be the type that leads to ‘buy in’ by those who are being led. Without this element we can be plunged into disastrous consequences.

May God grant us the vision to avoid the fallacy of Rehoboam May he give us the  courage of Jeroboam and bless us with a deep sense of history that will enable us to offer the type of leadership upon which we can build and consolidate as we search for a better future for those whom we lead.

Questions for discussion
1.  What lessons for leadership within the Church and the wider society can we learn from Rehoboam?
2. What are the strengths and the weaknesses of the style of leadership offered by Jeroboam?
3.  Discuss the importance of a sense of service for good leadership.
4.  How does the style of leadership offered by Jesus relates to that offered by Jeroboam? 

CREATIVE USE OF RESOURCES – NEHEMIAH

The book Nehemiah is very closely linked to Ezra and on occasions some sections of Nehemiah seemed to be more suited to Ezra. However, we know that the book chosen for our study relates the return of the main character from Babylon for two periods of governorship over Judah, the southern Kingdom, in the 5th century B.C.

Nehemiah was credited with the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and instituting social and religious reforms.
Whilst working as a cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah heard that the walls of Jerusalem lay in ruins for a long time, a disgrace to the Hebrews. Other nations mocked them. This terrible news troubled Nehemiah and he knew that something had to be done.

An outstanding aspect of his life was his dependence on God and his prayer life; “When I heard these words I sat down and wept, and mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”

The efforts to carry out this restorative work were opposed by local groups led by Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem the Arab (4:1-23 & 6:1-19). The challenge of rebuilding the physical structures and the life of the community provides for us a classic example of Leadership through crisis.

Chapter 3 of the Book describes the placement of individuals, groups and families in specific areas of the perimeter in order to set about the task of rebuilding the wall. A former U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, once said, “No duty the executive has to perform is so trying as to put the right man in the right place.” The text lists specific persons as builders of specific gates and sections because Nehemiah placed them in stations according to their natural gifts and interests and some built the section of the wall in front of their homes.

Then the high priest Eliashib set to work with his fellow priests and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set up its doors; (Nehemiah 3:1)

Also consider St. John 5:2: “Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.”

The Sheep gate was probably located in the north city wall of Jerusalem on the north side of the Temple area. Because of its proximity to the Temple and the pool of Bethesda, it has been surmised that sheep to be sacrificed were brought into the city through this gate. Would not the High priest and his colleagues have a personal and professional stake in this section of the wall?

When the people sensed danger from their enemies Nehemiah developed a plan which was most creative and provided a two-pronged strategy; the continuation of the work and the defence of the city. These passages are worthy of study:

So in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, in open places, I stationed the people according to their families, with their swords, their spears, and their bows. 14After I looked these things over, I stood up and said to the nobles and the officials and the rest of the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your kin, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes. (Nehemiah 4:13-14) 

So we laboured at the work, and half of them held the spears from break of dawn until the stars came out. 22I also said to the people at that time, “Let every man and his servant pass the night inside Jerusalem, so that they may be a guard for us by night and may labour by day (4:21-22)

Detractors always seem to be an ever present distraction in times of work. Nehemiah experienced his fair share of these:

He (Sanballat) said in the presence of his associates and of the army of Samaria, “What are these feeble Jews doing? Will they restore things? Will they sacrifice? Will they finish it in a day? Will they revive the stones out of the heaps of rubbish—and burned ones at that?” 3Tobiah the Ammonite was beside him, and he said, “That stone wall they are building—any fox going up on it would break it down! Nehemiah 4:2-3)

Sanballat realised that the rebuilding of the wall could lead to certain changes in the region like a shift in political power and changes in trade and commerce. He liked the status quo and had a vested interest in Jerusalem remaining as it was. So he set about his task of discouraging the Jews through ridicule and then resorting to threats and plots when the phase one failed. 

Nehemiah possessed such integrity that he was able to involve all levels of the society; priests, noblemen, officials, employers and servants.

We are told that the wall was completed in fifty-two days which may be described as record time. The role of the leader contributed significantly to this achievement. Nehemiah saw a need, rose up, captured a vision, laid a plan and mobilised others to join him in his cause.

The way we mobilise and manage our human and other resources in crisis situations determines how successful we will be in seeing the crisis as an opportunity for new life and growth. The wise leader values the skills and resources of all persons and sees how best they can be used to help him or her guide persons through murky waters that can be life threatening. Nehemiah displayed his wise leadership by skilfully deploying the resources at his disposal

Questions for Discussion.

1.      “Leadership must be in the hands of few, ministry in the hands of many” Discuss.
2.      Nehemiah’s chief resource was the “human resource”. How do we mobilise the same in a time of crisis? 
          Describe the crisis to which you are referring.
3.      What kind of distractions do we encounter and how do we handle the same?
4.      In what ways would re-organise the resources in your parish / community if you were given the opportunity? 

EMPOWERMENT:  THE TEACHING MINISTRY OF JESUS

Every generation in human history has lived with some kind of crisis or another; many have lived with the basic underlying notion that life itself is a crisis.  We often complain as we hear in the daily news that we are moving from one crisis to another – it may be political, industrial or economic.

But what is our understanding of the word “crisis?”  Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “a decisive moment, a time of danger or great difficulty, a turning point.”

The late president John F. Kennedy has said that the word “crisis” written in Chinese consists of two characters – the one meaning “danger” and the other meaning “opportunity.”  Every apparent danger or difficulty can be turned into opportunities to put our hands into the hands of God and to rise to new heights of personal stature.  It was the same John F. Kennedy who said:  “Great crises produce great men.”  It is, therefore, vital that as we stand at the place of divide where decisions are to be made we realise that we shall only be able to grasp the opportunity to react positively if there is competent and effective leadership.  As we study the scriptures we shall see that they are shot through with crises because they are concerned about life in this world; we shall see the strengths and weaknesses of leaders, but our supreme model is Jesus Christ, the perfect leader, the leader of leaders.

It has been said that “no teaching in history has more profoundly influenced the human race than the words of Jesus of Nazareth…It is teaching to inspire.  It turned the Roman Empire upside-down, and it’s been turning people and societies upside-down ever since.”  His teaching can so transform the lives of people that it can turn every disaster or disappointment into an opportunity.

Good leadership is not meant to be a substitute for individual responsibility and effort on the part of each person.  Too many people opt out of that sense of responsibility for what is happening around them and are prepared to pass the buck e.g. to the home, the Church, the school, the society. 

But Jesus began His ministry with quite a mixed group.  By worldly standards they had no special qualifications; but He called them not for what they were, but for what they would become.  Jesus had the knack of enabling persons to believe in themselves, because He believed in the worth and dignity of every person, and persons were attracted to Him because of His sincerity and His respect for them.  If a leader is to be an agent of change, he/she must first and foremost be a person who can be trusted. 

For the Christian baptism is the moment of equipment for the work of ministry but Jesus was able to empower people through His revolutionary teaching, some of which we shall consider under the following sections given below:

The Gospel and The Kingdom Of God

In Biblical times, it would be difficult to draw any clear distinction between religion and society.  Faith in God touched the lives of people at every point of their existence.  A faith based on God’s Incarnation in Jesus Christ – God revealed in human life – cannot ignore the world in which He was incarnate, and which He loved so much that He died for it.  In His inaugural sermon in the Synagogue at Nazareth Jesus stated the purpose of His coming – to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”  He came and identified with lepers, outcasts and other marginalised people in a special way.  There can be no doubt that He responded in practical ways to the material needs of persons, but throughout His ministry He sought to avoid being regarded as a mere wonder worker or a breadwinning Messiah.  “You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”  (John 6:26)

Rather than making persons dependent upon Him, He sought to enable them to believe in themselves and to help themselves.  This is further amplified in His teaching about the Kingdom of God, which was at the heart of His message.  The Kingdom of God is not a place, but a state of mind – a state of full and voluntary submission to the will of God.  Christians were to be Kingdom people living by Kingdom principles.  This was a new teaching, which held out a wonderful prospect for the Christian, and by extension for the world, of a new kind of life, a new kind of community, a new kind of values, and a new kind of purpose.

What is the purpose of Life?

Jesus sets out in the Sermon on the Mount what life according to Kingdom standards means.  Members of the Kingdom were to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

As salt of the earth, they were to hold back, by their life and witness, the advance of corruption and decay in society.
As the light of the world, they were to be beacons radiating God’s light in their surroundings.  Light shows up what is evil, it dispels darkness, it brings hope and encouragement, it reveals the safe path to follow.  The Christian is to know God and represent Him not in any selfish and private way, but in the world.  In an age of cynicism, doubt, and despair, we should proclaim to those with whom we live and move and have our being that life is going somewhere – that life has meaning and purpose.

Jesus’ Teaching about Poverty And Wealth

The Gospels show that Jesus felt a special affinity with poor people.  Some theologians today speak about His “preferential option for the poor”.  He probably felt this way because He came from a poor family Himself.  He described His message as “good news for poor people”, and it is obvious that the people who followed Him were largely made up of what the Authorized Version of the Bible called “the common people”.  His chief opponents were the powerful leaders of Church and State, and His greatest words of condemnation were about the dangers of power and wealth.

The Beatitudes in St. Matthew and St. Luke begin with blessing on the poor (St. Matthew’s version is “poor in spirit”).  This must not be interpreted to mean that those who have nothing in terms of possessions are happy.  But it means that the poor are under no illusion that they are masters of their fate or in charge of their destiny.  They know that their survival depends upon others rather than themselves.

The rich are not excluded from the Kingdom because they are rich, but because their riches have blinded them to their own needs.  The rich young Ruler went away sorrowful because he was not prepared to remove the barrier which stood between himself and his relationship with God – that barrier was his possessions.

There is always the temptation for the rich to lose their sense of dependence upon God, which is at the heart of faith.  Riches can blind persons to their need of God.  At this stage in their life, this is all they can think about.  The more they have the more they want.  This was what led to the recent fall and disgrace of so many executives of large corporations. The teaching of Jesus is that true happiness is built upon our dependence upon God.  We must therefore stop measuring success in terms of riches and consumption.  We should try to refocus our lives towards what really matters; we must ensure that money and possessions do not blind us to the true values of the Kingdom.

Specific Examples of The Empowerment of Persons (Individuals)

1. The healing of the Cripple at the pool of Bethesda

There was a man paralysed for 38 years.  Jesus asked him; “Do you want to be healed?”  The man replied; “Sir I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”   Jesus said to him; “Stand up, take up your mat and walk”.  It would appear that the man’s physical ailment was not the major factor which prevented him from walking.  Could it be that he was content to remain an invalid because if he was cured he would have to shoulder the burden of making a living and accepting his own responsibility?  A miracle happens when our will and God’s power cooperate to make it happen. This is the road to achievement and self-sufficiency.

2. The Women at the Well in Samaria

This woman belonged to a group who was considered racially inferior.  “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”.  The woman was surprised that Jesus, a Jew, would even talk with her, and would go beyond this and ask her for a drink of water.  When His disciples rejoined Him they were surprised that He was speaking with a woman.  Jesus was not deterred by the labels which others used to dehumanise this woman.  His interaction with her took her to a higher level.  He brought her to the point where she could define herself and discover her self-esteem.

This story and the actions of Jesus continue to challenge us to see the best in others so that they can discover the best in themselves and be empowered to live lives that are whole and complete.

Jesus’ Life of Prayer and Humility

The ministry of Jesus was undergirded by a life of prayer.  From the age of twelve, He came to realise His unique relationship with the Father: “I must be about my Father’s Business”. His temptations in the wilderness could be summed up as one basic attack on Him:  To doubt His relationship with God and to question His own call: “If you are the Son of God…”  The Gospels record that He kept His eyes on His goal by constant communion with His Father.  Before setting out on His daily ministry, He would go to a deserted place to pray.

At two other critical moments in His ministry – His Transfiguration and His Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane – while He wrestled with His impending crucifixion, He prayed.  This dependence upon the Father engendered a spirit of humility.  While His disciples were concerned about positions of prestige and honour, and were debating who among them was the greatest, He gave them a lesson in servant hood by washing their feet; “If I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done to you”.

A leader enhances his/her credibility with the acknowledgement of the need of God’s grace.  Humility is one of the hallmarks of genuine leadership.

Conclusion:

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews states that Jesus, the perfect leader, accomplished His goal through perseverance and suffering, and through a radical devotion to His cause:

Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross despising the shame and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God…(Hebrews 12:1-2).
It was fitting that God for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10).

Because the cross stands at the centre of our faith, we believe that success in life can be accomplished through discipline, effort, the making of choices, suffering and total commitment to the will of God.  Every crisis can be an opportunity to get rid of whatever is hindering out life’s journey and to keep our eyes fixed on those things in life which really matter.

Questions for Discussion
1. Does the ministry of Jesus show any distinction between a manager and a leader?

2. Do you feel that Jesus’ teaching about things like money, clothes, and food is impractical?

3. Are your priorities the priorities of the Kingdom of Heaven or of the kingdoms of this world?

4. In the context of the economic crisis, what in your view would constitute a wise use of money and personal resources?

5. What do you think can be done to ensure that the welfare state, while helping the poor, does not cultivate a culture of dependency?

6. What lessons have we learnt from the global economic crisis which the Church can pass on to society in general?

UNDERSTANDING SUFFERING

Jesus began his Galilean ministry with the announcement that he had come to bring relief to the poor, the captives, the afflicted, the blind and the downtrodden (Luke 4:14-18). Humanity continues to experience suffering in many ways and this can be a stumbling block for belief in a God who is supposed to be Almighty and loving. As we experience suffering in the world and our individual lives, we often ask the question: “Where is God in all of this?”

The suffering we see in the world and our lives can be linked to the problem of evil. John Hick speaks of evil in two categories: moral and non moral evil. Moral evil (war, rape, injustice and the like), results from the choices we make; non moral evil is associated with nature (floods, hurricane, volcanoes and the like). Sometimes it is difficult to make a distinction between the two when our exercise of free will leads to floods and other kinds of suffering that are linked to nature. Some of the suffering in the world is out of our control and cannot be rationally explained.

Do the sins of the fathers fall upon the children? Some persons quote the Second Commandment to argue that we suffer for our parents’ sins. While it is true that some of our parents’ actions can affect us, we cannot see personal suffering as a direct punishment from God because of our parents’ sins. This is not our understanding of the way God acts in history.  The Israelites held to the view that one suffered as a result of ones parents’ sins.  In the Book of Ezekiel, this thinking was rejected and each individual was held accountable for his own actions. "What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, `The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? As I live, says the Lord GOD, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel” (Ezekiel 18:3). We should be very wary in lending support to to the theory that says we suffer as punishment for our parents’ sins.
Suffering and evil have their origins in what is traditionally called the Fall. As a result of man’s misuse of his free-will which led to disobedience; sin and death entered into the world. The Creation Stories identify evil and suffering with man’s fall (Genesis 1 and 2). The writer of Genesis suggests that God allowed suffering to enter the world because of the first sin (Genesis 3:16-19).

Theodicy argues for the goodness of God despite the existence of evil and suffering in the world. Because of the presence of evil and suffering in the world, some people posit the idea that God is either not Almighty or loving, or both. Why is there evil and suffering in the world?

Some persons see a connection between free-will and suffering; it results from the misuse of our freedom as we make the wrong choices in life. True, some of our choices can result in suffering, but not all personal suffering can be reduced to personal choices.

St. Augustine's idea of original sin gives an explanation for human suffering and guilt by teaching that human beings somehow deserved the suffering they experience in their lives. Human beings deserve to suffer because the first parents sinned. And since humanity deserves the bad things it gets humanity can comfort itself with the idea that it has a just rather than an unjust God. This made the presence of evil in the world easier to understand, and answered the question of why a benevolent God would allow such a state of affairs to exist. This view of sin and punishment is questioned by many who hold to the view that our first parents’ sin only affected them and not the whole human race.

Much of the personal suffering experienced by people is outside their control. Nevertheless, we are responsible for some of the suffering we experience in our lives as a result of the choices we make.

For some, suffering is a punishment from God. While it is true that in some parts of the Bible suffering is seen within the context of punishment we cannot make it a general rule. In Deuteronomy 11:26-28, there is the thought that God will reward those who keep his laws and punish those who disobey them. But punishment meted out in this context refers to specific cases and do not speak to the general idea of suffering. The idea that promotes suffering as punishment for sin creates many problems when from our common experience we see the wicked flourishing and the righteousness  suffering.

There are many passages in the Bible that debunk the theory that suffering is often punishment for sin. Two that stand out are Job 42:7 and Luke 13:1-5. Job’s friend, Eliphaz, told him that his calamity was the result of his sin and suggested to him that if he repented all would be well. Job, aware of his faithfulness to God rejected  the view and he was later vindicated (Job 42:7).

The second passage (Luke 13:1-5) dismissed the position that saw suffering as punishment for sin. This passage refers to two incidences which claimed the lives of a number of people. We are not sure about the historical facts surrounding the first, but something of its nature did take place. The second one describes a disaster which took place and was well known. These two tragedies can be divided into two categories: man made and acts of God. When tragedies occur we often ask many searching questions which seek rational answers to questions than cannot be answered rationally. On reading this passage there seems to be some thinking that these people suffered because they were evil. Jesus dispels this reasoning and makes the point that no one is guiltier than another. There is a false conception among some that God should allow good things to happen to “good” people and bad things to “bad’ people. This is far from the truth: we are told that God sends the rain to fall on the just and the unjust and the sun to shine on the just and the unjust. Jesus does not provide an answer to the problem under discussion, there is no answer to be given.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus encountered a similar problem as it related to the man born blind. His disciples agonised over the issue and asked: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” was Jesus’ reply. The man’s blindness had nothing to do with his sins or that of his parents.
When we encounter tragedies in our lives, and at the national level, we are tempted to ask the question “why?”. “Why did God allow it to happen?” This question we cannot answer, but we continue to believe in God’s divine providence. Amidst all the suffering and pain in the world, we know that God cares for us and shares our grief and sorrows. Nothing happens without his knowledge and everything works for good to those who love God. In the final analysis God is still in control and someday everything will be subject to his divine authority.

Does suffering serve any useful purpose? There is the argument that suffering serves to remind us of our finite nature and the need to seek repentance. Many subscribe to the view that it brings us back to God who wants us to be in a loving relationship with him. The various trials and torments of life remind us that we are not in control of our lives; we do not hold our destiny in our hands. Sometimes it takes adversity to bring us to God. C.S. Lewis writes: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."

There is the belief that suffering builds character and makes us stronger persons. Paul alludes to this in Romans (Romans 5:5-2-4) where he indicates that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character.” The beneficial aspects of suffering finds expression in the Letter to the Hebrews where the author speaks discipline producing righteousness: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). However, it must be noted that some suffering does not build character, at times it is just destructive. Surely, some would argue that, character building of the individual could be achieved in other ways.

The discussion so far deals with moral evil, that which results from our choices. However, the non-moral evil- earthquakes, storms – are more difficult to explain and can be barriers to belief in God. As was stated earlier, some persons hold to the view that some non-moral evils are linked to our moral choices. Is this really true?

Suffering is real. It is not an allusion of the mind as some (Christian Scientists) would want us to believe. We should not try to downplay the reality of evil and suffering in the world. Pain is real, when you have a toothache it is not mind over matter. There is evil and suffering in the world. God does not promise us a world free from suffering; he promises us to be with us in our sufferings. “For because He himself has suffered and been tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).  God does not ordain evil but he allows it and can use it for a higher good.

Suffering in all forms provides an opportunity for us to identify and share in Christ’s suffering. The Cross challenges us to accept suffering as part of our life and to give a reason for the hope that is in us. St. Paul understood his suffering as sharing in Christ’s life of trial and pain. Paul writes: “From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the  marks  of Jesus branded on my body” (Galatians 6:17). A similar thought is also found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). If we accept this, we can see our personal suffering as an act of sharing in Jesus’ suffering and this gives a redemptive purpose to human suffering.

Personal suffering can be used by God to help us to respond to the needs of persons who are going through any form of suffering. Our experience of God’s presence and help in times of distress should move us to help and comfort others in their hour of need.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” ( 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

We can only make sense out of suffering within the context of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Resurrection reminds us that life is stronger than death; light outshines darkness and  truth is stronger than falsehood. The story of the resurrection is closely linked to the establishment of God’s kingdom when God’s rule will be enthroned and everything will be subject to his reign. John captures it in these words:

“….. he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).  

Questions for Discussion

1.   How do you cope with personal suffering and tragedies?
2.   Does suffering question your faith in God?
3.   How can we help persons who are going through difficult times in their lives?
4.   Do you think God always acts justly?
5. Does medical science work with or against God in trying to      relieve suffering?

CONTRIBUTORS
The Most Reverend and Dr. John Holder, Bishop of Barbados and Archbishop of the West Indies.
The Rt. Rev. Rufus Brome, GCM, retired Bishop of Barbados
The Rev. Canon Wayne Isaacs, Rector of St. Paul and Canon Missioner
The Rev. Canon Dr. Geoffrey Mayers, Rector of St. John Parish Church and Rural Dean of St. John.
The Rev. Canon Austin Carrington, Rector of Christ Church Parish Church and Rural Dean of Christ Church
 

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